The dangerous seductiveness of collective narcissism

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It is nice to feel good about yourself. Obviously. And while in the modern world, our self-esteem is very often tied to our sense of personal achievement, the condition of the collectives we identify with are not without impact either. Our group identities provide us with more or fewer reasons to feel good about ourselves. With varying individual intensity, a positive image of self is thus linked to a positive image of in-group. Most Americans want to believe Americans are great, most Chinese want to believe the same thing about their nation, and so on. This is all very human, but what is important is that we make sure there is not too much of a discrepancy between our self-perceptions and reality, both at group and individual level. There is a difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking.

Nigeria has the largest number of extremely poor citizens and out-of-school children in the world. Insecurity is rife, running water a luxury, steady electricity a dream. The country ranks 157th in the United Nations Human Development Index, behind the likes of Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uzbekistan and Zambia. Yet the average Nigerian will likely insist Nigeria is a greater nation than those bettering us developmentally. How does one explain this self-perception in such a reality? Like most deep-rooted societal beliefs, the story goes back a while.

All colonialisms involved an offensive on the self-esteem of the colonized. So it was with British rule in Nigeria. Many pre-colonial beliefs and values underwent systematic rubbishing, well-illustrated in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The added humiliations of extended foreign subjugation, racism, and the reality of European technological superiority, all but guaranteed an inferiority complex.

Educated Nigerians who wanted to mobilize against colonialism knew they … Read More...